The authoritarian leader of Belarus has told the U.S. envoy in this former Soviet republic that he wants to forge closer ties with the United States.

The U.S. imposed sanctions on top Belarusian officials in 2004 for curtailing freedoms in their country. Washington recalled its ambassador to Belarus in 2008 and has since been appointing temporary envoys.

President Alexander Lukashenko on Wednesday met with the outgoing U.S. charge d'Affaires, Scott Rauland, pledging Minsk's commitment to improve ties.

Lukashenko, who is currently serving his fifth term in office, is desperate to shore up the economy which dropped 4 percent because of the economic crisis in Russia, Belarus' key ally. Belarus is seeking a $3 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund and is eager for American investment.